Analysis: Although Miami and Boston garnered much of the preseason hype, Chicago entered the season as dark horse Eastern Conference contenders thanks to offseason acquirements of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. Yet few would have projected prosperity for Tom Thibodeau's team after significant injuries to Boozer and rebounding wizard Joakim Noah. While Thibodeau's defensive dexterity and Luol Deng's dependability facilitated consistency, Derrick Rose was Chicago's stalwart in the absence of the Bulls' big men. Averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists, Rose's offensive imagination is often overlooked due to the team's imposing defense (91.3 points allowed). However, his creativity helped guide the team through a delicate assimilation period, integrating Boozer (17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds), who had missed training camp, and Noah (11.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), who had yet to team with a formidable forward in his young career. Besides the fearsome foursome of Rose, Boozer, Noah and Deng, Chicago boasts a potent bench of Taj Gibson (7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds), sharpshooter Korver (8.3 points, 41.5 three-point percentage) and Ronnie Brewer (6.2 points, 1.3 steals). Thibodeau's reps as an assistant in Boston will alleviate any qualms concerning a lack of playoff experience amongst the roster, rendering the Bulls as challengers for the Eastern Conference crown.
Analysis: A new arena wasn't the only change in the Orlando landscape for the '10-11 season. The Vince Carter Experience was mercifully ended, as the decrepit shooting guard was disposed to the desert with Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, allowing for the return of prodigal son Hedo Turkoglu and shooter Jason Richardson. Curiously, Magic GM Otis Smith wasn't done dealing, sending Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas. The Turkoglu and Richardson returns have been positive; the advent of Arenas, not so much. Dwight Howard submitted another dominant season with averages of 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds 2.4 blocks per game, although his childlike behavior clearly wore out its welcome with officials, opponents and the media. Ryan Anderson has been a pleasant surprise for the second unit, pouring in 10.6 points per game, and J.J. Redick is averaging a career-high 10.1 points off the bench. However, Orlando's destiny will be dependent on Jameer Nelson, whose play has been erratic at times. With backups Arenas and Chris Duhon underwhelming at the point, Nelson will have to provide a consistent presence for Orlando to return to the Finals.
Chances of Winning Conference Semi-Finals: Bulls 61.7%- Magic 37.7%